Ya gotta stand for something

Friday, July 19, 2013

Ya gotta stand for something

I recently returned from a family vacation out west. We passed through many states, all of which - even our flat-as-a-pancake Great Plains brethren - had some magnificent scenery. Some of these scenes really define the state. For example, when we think of Colorado, we think of mountains. For Oklahoma or Kansas, we think prairie. As we passed under the arch and into Illinois, the thought occurred to me that there are other more important things for a state and its people to be known for.

Now I suppose that Indiana could try to be known for its farmland or perhaps the Indianapolis 500, but if we are completely honest, we would all probably admit that Indiana is not likely to be a state which will be defined by its scenery. Indeed, and as pretty as it is in many places, if Indiana were to be known for scenery, it would be hard to distinguish it from much of Ohio, Illinois, Michigan or Kentucky. But this does not mean that Indiana cannot be a ‘known” state. In fact, it may be an advantage, as it opens up other possibilities for Indiana’s identity.

I have heard it said that to be somebody in California, you need to be beautiful and to be someone in Washington DC area, you have to know someone. I once lived in an area of Michigan dominated by a major chemical company. There the commodity was, “what do you do?” It is sad to me that the “identity” of so many places is so shallow.

When I consider what I would hope Indiana would be known for, I soon realize that there are many things more important to human beings than scenery, physical beauty, raw political power or super achievement. Put another way, there was a good reason why our ancestors left the beauty of the Swiss Alps and countless other places to pursue a new life here. What they sought, and what America was known for was, in a word, liberty. A place where people of all faiths and backgrounds could worship as they choose and develop their gifts and talents as they see fit; a place where there were clear restraints on government in favor of the individual.

It is my hope that when people think of Indiana, they will again think of a people who love liberty, individual responsibility, faith, family and prudent government. In short, that they think of Hoosiers as a people who cherish the same ideals their ancestors sought when they fled to this country.

No, we Hoosiers are not perfect. We never have been and we never will be, but, that does not mean that our aspirations have to be suspect. There is still value in liberty and freedom. There is still value in loving your neighbor and being responsible for your family. From a governmental perspective, there is still value in paying your bills, keeping government’s burdens light and not saddling the future with debt generated in the present.

When we crossed into Illinois from Missouri, the thought in my head was not, “wow, what beautiful farmland”. It was instead, “I wonder how these folks will ever get out of debt. I wonder if their governor will go to jail as so many have before, etc., etc.” Indeed, I heard it attributed to former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels that living next to Illinois is like living next to the Simpsons of cartoon fame. Illinois did not do good things to be known for.

Singer-songwriter John Mellencamp (or John Cougar Mellencamp, depending on how old you are), himself a Hoosier, nailed it in a memorable lyric: “Ya gotta stand for somethin’, or ya gonna fall for anything.” I think that Indiana is at the crossroads. We still have a chance to make some serious statements to our fellow Americans that we, as a state, are not going to be known as a state that gave in to those who would destroy the principles of our nation’s founding. We can still be known for standing for individual rights against government and certain unalienable truths.

Ya gotta stand for somethin’, and that something –our American heritage– is what I hope Indiana will be known for when people traveling through our state spend a few hours looking at our wonderful farmland, rolling forests, and interacting with our hospitable people. It is still great to be a Hoosier.

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State Rep. Tom Washburne serves as Vice Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He also serves on the Financial Institutions Committee and the Select Committee on Government Reduction. Rep. Washburne represents the entirety of Gibson County and portions of Knox, Pike, Vanderburgh and Posey counties.